Monday, September 23, 2013

No hay pollitos para usted

Merida, Venezuela (Dec 18, 2004)

--- Originally published on December 19, 2004 ---

I have no clue who those two little guys are. When yesterday we went to Mayli’s grandmother house (La Finca) I found these two with one of Mayli’s uncles. They may be some second degree cousins, or something. Anyway, the younger of the two caught my hand and told me: “come to see the pigs”. And there we went, along a path in the bananas field behind la Finca, to the place where the pigs are kept. The piglet in yesterday’s photo was one of them. I guess the little guy wanted me to accompany him to the piglets because he is not authorized to go alone. The pigs are in a place very close to a steep slope ending into the stream a hundred feet in the valley below, so he may be denied to go without adult supervision. Or maybe he just thought I would have liked the piglets (which in fact I did).

Today we went again at la Finca for lunch (where we had chinese food, and not -strangely enough- hallacas), but apart for that we didn't really do much. I did go to walk Sniffer, Mayli’s mother golden retriever, and we went together to La Parroquia, the nearby Merida neighborhood, where we saw the “caravanas de los gandoleros” (dozens of trucks passing through the village blowing their horns, I guess as part of the Christmas festivities).

There is something else about yesterday that I forgot to mention. When we were going to la Finca, we saw a very long queue on the side of the road. We stopped and Mayli asked what it was, hoping it was the queue to renew photo ids (apparently there is not an official place to do it, you have just to find the right queue wherever it forms). A policemen said that the queue was because they were giving pollitos (little chickens) at the government subsidized price. The policemen probably thought that Mayli intended to stay in line and get one pollito, because then added that, however, he could only guarantee that there were enough pollitos for the person that arrived just before Mayli, but not for her. Maybe he thought that the pollitos were not intended for somebody clearly not belonging to the intended recipients of the government aids... No pollitos for Mayli today.

--- Updates (September 23, 2013) ---

The tradition of giving "pollitos" to Venezuelan near the time of elections is a honored tradition of all political parties, since well before the rise of chavismo. The social-democratic Accion Democratica party (now at the opposition) was particularly notorious for showing up with a truck full of literal pollitos in the most remote village of the "llanos", to prop up the vote in their favor. Under Chavez, though, this tradition has reached unprecedented heights.

I have mentioned in the past how the venezuelan opposition spurred in 2002 a walk out from the national oil company. The goal was yet again to depose Chavez, following the unsuccessful coup against him just a few months before. The walk out gave Chavez the unique opportunity to sack all the pro-opposition management from the company, consolidating the absolute control of the government on the national oil revenues. It is with these revenues that the government has been financing the misiones, as well as other Chavez pet projects. This was done with the creation of a number of "black box" companies, with undisclosed books and outside the supervision of the Parliament. According to a special report by Reuter the largest of these corporations, FUNDEN, has received as of 2012 close to 100 billion dollars. That's not a typo: 100 billion, or 1 followed by 11 zeroes.

The activity of these corporations is shrouded in secret. It is widely believed that at least part of these enormous funds have been used as a formidable war chest to finance the extremely prodigal electoral campaigns of the government. That's a lot of pollitos, which can explain how Chavez managed to maintain a very high popularity even as the venezuelan economy was faltering, amid hyper-inflation and scarcity of basic goods and services. With 100 billion pollitos it is easy to win elections.

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